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“The 2022 Elections: Choosing between a Rock and a Softer Place” (ed. in Fiji Times 6 Nov. 2021)


The opinion polls about voting intentions for the 2022 Elections suggest that Fiji’s voters face the horrible challenge of choosing between two former military officers, both of whom have done illegal treasonous coups removing lawfully elected Governments.

Is Fiji genuinely “between the rock and a hard place”?

I suggest that today’s young voters who have only known fourteen years of the governance by the Bainimarama Government need to think also about how Rabuka governed Fiji after his 1987 coup.

While both coup leaders have many 2000 coup and mutiny skeletons in their cupboards, only one is being very selectively focused on by the current RFMF Commander, writing appropriately in the other newspaper.

Fiji’s voters ought to focus on real historical facts rather than propaganda, by answering the following difficult questions about the two coup leaders.

Who were really behind the coups of 1987, 2000 and 2006?

How did they change Fiji’s constitution and Fiji’s governance?

How did they change the powerful institutions of state, such as police, prisons and judiciary?

How did they influence the all powerful media?

Were the coup leaders collective decision makers or dictators?

Were the coup leaders accountable to the voters or to “powers behind the throne”?

Perhaps Fiji is more accurately “between a rock and a softer place” with political and economic progress only possible if there is a change in government.

[I leave for another article the impact of these two coup leaders on the economic welfare of Fiji citizens, current and future generations].

Who were really Behind the 1987 coup?

While the world knows that Sitiveni Rabuka, the third in command in the RFMF implemented the first 1987 coup, anyone watching the very prominent persons in the public protests against the 1987 NFP/FLP Government, would have known that the former Prime Minister (the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara), the Governor General and later President (the late Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau), and all their entourages would have had their ears very close to the ground and fingers in the pie.

Otherwise it would have been “inexplicable” that the FMF Commander then (Ratu Epeli Nailatikau) and son-in-law of the Ratu Mara would choose to leave the country just prior to the coup by his third in command.

But importantly, what did Rabuka do afterwards as coup leader?

Rabuka became multiracial

While Victor Lal and Fijileaks rightly today remind readers about the trauma that Rabuka’s 1987 coup caused the Indo-Fiji community what needs to be also discussed is Rabuka’s reform of the racist 2000 Constitution and his support of the revolutionary 1997 Constitution.

Rabuka, in partnership with Jai Ram Reddy (Leader of NFP) agreed to the Reeves Constitution Commission (Paul Reeves, Tom Vakatora and Dr Brij Lal) whose Report was the basis of the 1997 Constitution, with one valuable addition not in the Report.

It is sadly often forgotten today that the 1997 Constitution included a “multiparty government” provision that ensured that any party with at least 10% of the seats in parliament (ethnicity or regional grouping), would be entitled to be invited into Cabinet and share in the governance of Fiji

Of course, there was one huge defect in its electoral system which I had explained even as I voted to pass the 1997 Constitution (“The Constitution Review Commission Report: sound principles but weak advice on electoral system”. The Fiji Times, 1 November, 1996).

But we were in a hurry to approve the progressive constitutional change agreed to by Rabuka who we knew had to convince some very reluctant colleagues and we fully cooperated for the 1999 Elections.

I remember accompanying Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in his elections campaigns in the Yasawas and Ratu Sakiusa Makutu in Nadroga.

Sadly, both Indo-Fijian and indigenous Fijian voters rejected the multiracial stance of the two political leaders.

Nevertheless, it is to Rabuka’s credit that he accepted the results of the election and humbly offered his services to Mahendra Chaudhry (on the phone in my presence on the Vatuwaqa Golf Course).

Unfortunately, for reasons that historians can explore till the cows come home, Chaudhry did not accept that humble offer from Rabuka, who soon after lost the leadership of SVT to Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

Ignored today is that the historical opportunity to implement a multiracial multiparty government (of FLP and SVT) went begging and the cogs of the 2000 coup were set in motion.

Ignored today is that the 1997 Constitution had an Upper House which was a solid “checks and balances” mechanism of national leaders, which could officially hold the decisions of the elected House of Representatives to account

Ignored today is that by and large the judiciary, the police, the prisons, the electoral office, and the media, were relatively independent of the Government of the day.
Less clear are the events of 2000.

Who were really behind the 2000 coup?

It is a real tragedy that while George Speight is seen as the leader of the 2000 coup, the truth has never been revealed that large numbers of the senior RFMF officers had more than just a sticky hand in it.

It is a real tragedy that Fiji has forgotten the names of a few honest RFMF officers who were very ethically opposed to the 2000 coup. From personal communications to me, I list the following: Ilaisa Kacisolomone, George Kadavulevu, Vilami Seruvakoula, Akuila Buadromo and several others.

But also conveniently forgotten are the names of many senior RFMF officers who were at least initially behind the 2000 coup, many revealed by the Evans Board of Inquiry Report (which can be freely downloaded from the TruthForFiji website).

It is clear that the RFMF intelligence had informed the RFMF Commander (Bainimarama) who exactly (including senior army officers, politicians, chiefs and Methodist Church leaders) were planning the coup and even the date of the coup.

How “inexplicable” then that the Commander of the RFMF chose to leave the country (for an unimportant meeting in Norway) just prior to the coup?

How “inexplicable” is it that on his return he allowed the salaries of the CRW unit to continue, and rations and arms to continue to be delivered to them during the hostage crisis.

How “inexplicable” that when he eventually took control of the coup, he tried to make himself Prime Minister (but did not receive the support of his senior army officers); and he tried to abrogate the 1997 Constitution (which Justice Gates ruled he could not)?

What is historically indisputable is that Bainimarama chose not to restore the lawful Chaudhry Government, but appointed an Interim Qarase Government, thereby effecting the coup.

How “inexplicable” that some of the prominent and known 2000 coup leaders became not only part of the Qarase Government but also part of the 2006 Bainimarama Government after the 2006 coup.

It is not disputed that the CRW soldiers who did the November 2000 mutiny did so because they felt betrayed by some in the RFMF hierarchy.

It is not disputed that five CRW soldiers (not necessarily involved in the mutiny) were taken from police custody by the RFMF and ended up dead, without any trial, judge or jury, to this day.

It is not dispute that Rabuka, with his uniform, appeared in the barracks at the height of the mutiny.

But while one newspaper is currently focusing on the alleged role of one former RFMF Commander during the 2000 mutiny, the roles of several other senior RFMF officers during the 2000 coup are not being similarly examined.

In sheer contrast there is no doubt whatsoever that RFMF Commander Voreqe Bainimarama was the sole leader of the 2006 coup and totally controlled the government thereafter, while still controlling the RFMF. The truth has yet to be told about his real reasons for the coup.

Bainimarama’s Governance record

Given what have I sketched above, the sheer contrasts of Bainimarama’s coup with Rabuka’s are all too obvious.

How tragically forgotten is that Bainimarama’s coup did not just depose Qarase’s SDL Government, but the multiparty government of SDL and FLP.

While one can understand why Chaudhry has never emphasized that point (given that he soon after joined Bainimarama’s Government as Minister of Finance) sadly the deposed FLP MPs have also remained silent about their removal from Government.

It is indisputable that Bainimarama ruled Fiji for eight years as a military dictator not accountable to the Fiji public in any way whatsoever.

No Auditor General Reports were issued for the eight years.

There was a People’s Charter exercise carried out under the leadership of John Samy and the late Archbishop Mataca but rejected without explanation.

The Yash Ghai Commission appointed by Bainimarama and Khaiyum produced a comprehensive Draft Constitution, but they also were sent packing for reasons never clarified.

Independent judges were replaced by co-operating foreigners, including Sri Lankans.

A 2013 Constitution with no popular inputs was imposed on Fiji without the approval of any elected Parliament.

The Upper House was abolished and Parliament, with the assistance of a co-operating Speaker became a rubber stamp of legislative changes.

The police, prisons, electoral office, HRADC, and Electoral Commission came under the total control of government.

Large sections of the media (with the painful exception of The Fiji Times) and MIDA came under total control of the Government.

Undermining the Ministry of Information, a massive amount of money was spent annually on American propaganda machine Qorvis.

One Government Minister, not the Prime Minister, clearly became all powerful while others toed the line or were ejected from parliament.

Some segments of Fiji’s corporate sector have been shown to have circumvented the $10,000 limit per donor by using family members and even staff and contributing hundreds of thousands to the ruling government party, and being suitable rewarded with board memberships.

A distorted electoral system

An electoral system was imposed, supposedly proportional, but designed to elect a President-type “Leader” with the bulk of the votes, while the rest of his MPs and Ministers had pitifully small numbers of votes.

There was an outrageous ballot paper for one national constituency without names, faces, or party symbols- just one number among more than 200 from which Fiji’s largely undereducation voters were to select one number.

Voters were not allowed the help of even a “voter assistance card” (common in all democratic countries) which was astonishingly made illegal with heavy fines.

This utterly contrived electoral system was given the stamp of approval by Catholic clerics like Rev David Arms (a foreigner) and even largely self-censoring USP academics whose academic journal covering the 2014 Elections blazoned “ENDORSED” on their cover.

A Supervisor of Elections could not be accused of displaying neutrality towards Opposition parties and candidates, while he even ignored lawful directives from the Electoral Commission and judicial judgements.

That system was perpetuated through the 2018 Elections and is now in full swing for the 2022 Elections whose outcome will be interesting to say the least, given that the RFMF has been allegedly given full responsibility for safeguarding the welfare of Fiji, as decided by themselves.

The current Commander has yet to reassure the Fiji public that the RFMF will not interfere with the result of the 2022 Elections.

Between a rock and a softer place?

Of course, Fiji’s voters might also want to examine the impact of the two coup leaders on the Public Debt, FNPF and the economic welfare (and poverty) of ordinary people of Fiji (perhaps my next three articles).

But even the very simple comparisons and contrasts that I have drawn above between Rabuka and Bainimarama in their governance of Fiji, would suggest that Fiji is not between “the rock and a hard place” but “between a rock and a softer place”.

I am sure that Fiji Times readers are intelligent enough to decide who is the “rock” and who is the “softer place”, regardless of the skeletons rattling in both their cupboards.

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